Featured Teaching Librarian: Elise Nacca

Several times a year, the ACRL Instruction Section Teaching Methods Committee selects and interviews a librarian who demonstrates a passion for teaching, innovation, and student learning.

Name:

Elise NaccaElise Nacca

Institution:

The University of Texas at Austin

Job Title:

Head of Information Literacy Services

Number of Years Teaching: 

10

What are you reading right now?

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. The book was exhaustively researched over decades, but it’s her clever storytelling device of weaving interviews with Southern blacks who migrated over the course of six decades that makes this tome a compelling read.

What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time?

I honestly like doing nothing. I enjoy wrestling with boredom. I like the moments upon waking when my brain is still adrift, and the moments before I fall asleep when my brain and body part ways for the night. I get my best thinking done in those moments. Thinking half formed thoughts on my own feels luxurious nowadays when we are expected to have pocket computers on our person at all times. I like to pretend it’s 1994 and no, I cannot just look it up right now.

Describe a favorite activity that you use with students (this could be for a face-to-face class, online, or hybrid class). 

The best interactions with students that I have had are the ones where I facilitate a source analysis activity in hands-on sessions with primary sources. Students don’t always lead with curiosity because school tends to be very goal-driven. Moments when we can prioritize inquiry-based learning and give students the permission to explore is one of my favorite teaching moments, even if I’m not really teaching anything. The worksheet I use prompts them to ask questions about the artifacts they are handling. Who produced it and for what purpose? Who is the audience? Where do you detect bias? Beyond that, I think this is also a space where we can teach curiosity by asking, What is surprising about this artifact? What do you want to know more about? Where are you going to look? Having students report out their questions and findings gives them the opportunity to showcase what they find valuable and exciting and to pass on new knowledge to their classmates.

How do you avoid teaching burnout?

I can’t imagine being burned out from teaching. I occupy a position of great privilege. In my role I engage with an array of disciplines and collaborate with faculty to teach freshmen research skills in a world class collection. Every year a new batch of students presents new perspectives on the shifting grounds where we teach information literacy skills. My job is to, in whatever small way I can, support undergraduates to become better citizens, to be curious, to be tenacious, and to contribute to research that will change the world.

So, my advice for those who are feeling burned out—remember what drew you to your work in the first place. Talk to a colleague about how you’re feeling. Or, explain your job to someone outside of our profession—I’ll bet they say, ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’

Name two things you would share with a librarian who is new to teaching.

1) Teaching is a bad place for a perfectionist. You will mess up, you will explain something horribly, you will muck up a demo, you will tell a lousy joke. Everyone else will always seem like a better teacher than you. Often they are. But that’s not the point. The point is to continually reflect upon and rethink your practice to become a better teacher. And remember that when you hold yourself up to impossible standards, you are holding others up to those standards as well. That does not breed a community of trust, curiosity, and risk-taking.

2) College is hard. Lead with compassion when you teach and share with your students the times you stumbled, the times you had no clue. And share with them the passions that kept you going when you almost gave up—so they can find theirs.

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One Response to Featured Teaching Librarian: Elise Nacca

  1. Lauren B. says:

    I am in my second year of teaching as a middle/high school librarian and this comment on perfectionism has come at just the right time. Knowing that failures are opportunities to revise and refine doesn’t always lessen their sting in the moment, so thank you for the reminder to be patient!

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